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Accessing Our Future Through Public Health

By Perdita Henry

Everyone here at Healthy Futures of Texas recognizes where we are, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. We – meaning us and our partners – work every day to ensure that more people have access to the information and healthcare needed to help them lead their best lives, through science-based education and advocacy efforts that empower young people, women, and families to make the best decisions for their futures.

Ahead of this year’s Accessing Our Future event—live streaming Wednesday, October 21, on YouTube, register and donate here—we wanted to make sure you know just how phenomenal the awardees are.

This year’s Community Service Award will go to public health champion, Junda Woo, MD, MPH.

What role does sexual health education play in public health?

Wellness is about more than just healthy eating and active living. Mental and sexual health are vital dimensions. When people are empowered to insist on consensual sex and healthy relationships, then we potentially protect their children from domestic violence, which like other adverse childhood experiences can take years off one’s life. Education can help people avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and space out their pregnancies.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) calls family planning one of the Ten Great Public Health Achievements of the 20th century, alongside antibiotics and vaccinations, because contraception reduces infant and maternal deaths, and advances the social and economic roles of women. Education is only one part of the answer—we can educate away some stigma and misunderstandings, but we can’t educate our way to affordable, accessible healthcare. That requires all of us working to change systems and create nontraditional paths to care.

Why is public health essential to accessing our future?

This year of upheaval has shown that to have a healthy workforce, a healthy student body and a healthy community, that a robust public health system is essential. People now have a better idea of what public health does in the realm of communicable diseases—many COVID-19 procedures are translated from our work with tuberculosis and STIs. What people may not know is that we also play a role during natural disasters and bioterrorism response, along with preventing chronic diseases, inspecting restaurants, reducing violence and health inequities, and promoting maternal, child and adolescent health.

At this time of budget cutting, it’s worth mentioning that spending on public health is thrifty and smart. Prevention is cheaper than cures.

What drives your passion for public health?

Public health works on root causes. Instead of focusing on the one patient in front of you who has high blood pressure, like I did as a doctor at CentroMed, we think about all the contributors to high blood pressure—like diet, health literacy, and toxic stress sources like adverse childhood experiences and systemic racism. If we do things right, we can improve thousands of lives in one swoop.

I’m proud to have been a small part of the vast coalition assembled by Colleen Bridger, MPH, PhD, that passed Tobacco 21 in January 2018. We were the first city in Texas to pass Tobacco 21, and the state Legislature followed the next year. That moment will forever be a highlight to me. Who doesn’t want to make the world a better place?

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